When God’s love hurts

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
– Hebrews 12:1-11

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Does God really act in love toward Christians all the time? Does he always treat us as his precious children? We know the answer we should give to these questions, but sometimes we don’t feel it. Sometimes we feel far from him, or go through pain, suffering or opposition that makes us question if what we are experiencing is mercy or judgement. Why then do we face pain and suffering if God really loves us?

Hebrews 12 helps us begin to answer this question. It says (quoting proverbs 3) that “the Lord disciplines the one he loves.”

This is jarring to modern ears. We resent the idea that the Father would discipline us.

This may stem in part from our view of our Heavenly Father as more grandfatherly than fatherly. We hear that he loves us and think he must always want us to be happy- a nodding dog rather than a holy God. This dislike of God’s discipline may also stem from a forgetfulness of Grace. We can easily begin to feel that we deserve a certain quality of life, a certain level of happiness, and become outraged when our experience doesn’t match up. We forget that ‘life itself is grace’, as Frederick Buechner once said, and that we are owed nothing from the one whose glory we have fallen miserably short of.

In Hebrews 12 we see both the motive of the Lord’s discipline and its result.

In verse 6 it says that “The Lord disciplines the one he loves“. The motive for the discipline of God is love. It is because he cares for us so deeply that he disciplines us. Verse 7 adds “God is treating you as sons“.  It is because God loves us as his dear children that he disciplines us. In verse 10 it says “he disciplines us for our good”. It is because the God wants what is good for us that he disciplines us, but what is the good that God wants for us, what is the result of his discipline?

Verse 10 helps us again; “he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness“. God disciplines us that we may be holy. Romans 8:28-29 says “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” We see again here that all things (including Gods discipline) are for our good, but we also get to what that good is- “to be conformed the image of his Son”. God disciplines us so that we would be like Jesus. 

Hebrew 12 shows us that we have a Heavenly Father who truly loves us, who cares for our holiness above our personal happiness, and therefore disciplines us. Does this then mean we will enjoy his discipline?

The bible’s honesty here is refreshing. Verse 11 says “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant”. Gods discipline will hurt, but it is pain which leads to life. Verse 9 says “Shall we not…be subject to the Father of spirits and live”. What is the alternative? The alternative is to reject the discipline of the Lord and to move towards death. Ann Voskamp puts it starkly when she says “There is either the pain of self denial – or the pain of self-destruction”. We can accept the discipline of the Lord and live, or reject it and destroy ourselves.

There have been many believers who have grasped, wrestled with, and ultimately rejoiced in these truths, but here are just three who have expressed these realities in particularly beautiful words.

John Newton, the wretched sinner saved by amazing grace wrote many hymns, but one in particular shows the Lord disciplining us that he might make us holy- ‘Prayers Answered by Crosses’. In the opening verse he asks to grow in holiness and love for God:

“I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.”

He hoped that the Lord would answer his prayer quickly, simply by Gods power making him so, but:

“Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.”

And so he cries out, asking the Lord why he has done these things. The answer reveals the loving discipline of God, which makes us holy.

“‘Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.
These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

Our trials are therefore not purposeless suffering, but have our ultimate joy and Christ-likeness as their goal.

Another who understood these truths was the great poet T.S. Eliot. In ‘Little Gidding’, part of his famous ‘Four Quartets’ we find this passage:

“The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.”

Both stanzas present the stark choice each person faces – Pyre or pyre; fire or fire. We die to ourselves or we die in our sins; we face the fire of God’s refining love, or the fire of his judgement. The pyre of death to self and exposure to the refining fires of God’s holy love is shown as “The only hope, or else despair”. It is the way to life.

However, it is painful. Eliot describes it as an “The intolerable shirt of flame”, and something that we can do nothing to remove. Should this make us terrified of it?

According to Eliot we shouldn’t feel we are without hope, because it is torment devised by love. Though it seems merely painful to us, we face trials that we might live, we face trials because the Lord truly loves us, and his love is great enough to use our pain for our good.

Another poet who wrestled with the difficult love of God is Gerard Manley Hopkins. Here is Stanza 9 from his poem ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’

“Be adored among men,
God, three-numbered form;
Wring thy rebel, dogged in den,
Man’s malice, with wrecking and storm.
Beyond saying sweet, past telling of tongue,
Thou art lightning and love, I found it, a winter and warm;
Father and fondler of heart thou hast wrung;
Hast thy dark descending and most art merciful then.”

Hopkins describes God as both like ‘a bolt of lightning in a stormy sky’ and ‘tender and nurturing like an infatuated lover’ (from Wesley Hill’s description of the poem in his book ‘Washed and Waiting’). But Hopkins doesn’t think God has mood-swings, he think that God is both of these things at once. In fact, it is in his “dark descending” that he is most merciful.

Why did Hopkins think that God was merciful even when it hurt him? He knew that God’s discipline was designed that ‘my chaff might fly’- that we would become more like Christ.

Wesley Hill sums up Hopkins understanding of God in a moving paragraph in his book ‘Washed and Waiting’. He says “Hopkins knew better than many that God isn’t tame or safe. True, he is merciful, but his mercy has sharp edges. God judges sin and transforms sinners in a way that often feels as if it is ripping apart our deepest selves. Hopkins also knew that even on our loneliest roads, when the valleys are so shadowed that day feels like night, God is watching, rejoicing over ever inch gained, gazing down as the Author who cares about every twist in his story.”

So what are we to do so that we may keep walking this path of pain, even when obedience seems hopeless.

Hebrews 12 gives us at least three things.

We should consider the “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 11, wonderful examples of those who trusted the Lord through difficult circumstances, who remained faithful when it cost them. By extension we might also consider those around us who also follow this pattern, learning from them and being encouraged by their faith.

We should also consider Jesus, and the pattern his life gives us to follow. Verse 3 says “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” Jesus endured suffering for us and therefore he understands its difficultly, and leads us through it to be with him where he is- at the right hand of God.

This leads us to the final thing we are called to consider – the reward of our endurance.
Our reward for enduring God’s discipline is sharing his holiness, being filled with the fruit of righteousness. And not only that, but we have joy waiting for us, that is beyond anything this world offers us, when Jesus returns to establish a New Creation with no pain any longer.

And in the context of the book of Hebrews these are things that we cannot do alone. We must encourage one another to endure, reminding each other of the example and love of Jesus, and of the wonderful hope we have.

***

Therefore, when God’s love hurts, we endure, knowing that even the pain is mercy.

 

Prayer:
Lord of lightning and love, help us to be those who endure when your discipline is painful, remembering that you care for us, Jesus’ example and the hope of joy everlasting. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

A beautiful song called ‘In the valley’ based on a puritan prayer about trusting God during trials

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“Come and die”

‘The Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” – Matthew 16:24-25

‘And he said to all “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” – Luke 9:23-24  

“Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” – Matthew 10:38-39

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“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” – The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Jesus calls everyone who would trust in him to take up their cross and follow him. But what does it mean for someone to take up their cross? Why should we take up our cross? And why would a God who is good call people to do something which sounds so difficult and painful? In attempting to answer these questions I hope that we will finish a little more convinced both that “salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you your life” (Bonhoeffer) and that the way of the cross is where true life is found.

Firstly then, what does it mean for a person to take up their cross?

The two parallel passages in Matthew and Luke are both preceded by Jesus foretelling his own death and sufferings. Jesus’ own death is the picture that is meant to be in our minds as we think upon these verses about discipleship. This means, as H.B Swete says, that “to take up the cross is to put oneself into the position of a condemned man on his way to execution”. If we claim to follow Jesus we should be willing to suffer, up to and including death for him. To take up our cross is to be willing to endure suffering and persecution for following Jesus.

But, as we see in the passage from Luke, it also means to deny ourselves. This isn’t a call to deny our distinct identity and become one with everyone else. Instead, it is a call to deny the ‘old man’, our natural sinful selves, and instead to serve God and others. The New Testament is full of phrases describing or calling for this kind of self denial:

– “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” Galatians 5:24
– “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” – 1 Peter 2:24a
– “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” Colossians 3:5
– “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to   gratify its desires.” Romans 13:14

Luke account also includes the word “daily”, showing the necessary continual nature of this cross bearing and self denial.

Another aspect of taking up our Cross then, is to die to sin, to our old selves, and to put on the Lord Jesus Christ daily, allowing us to say with Paul “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

This recognition of the cost of following Jesus is captured beautifully in T.S Eliot’s poem ‘Journey of the Magi’. The Magi travel to see Jesus’ birth, but soon realise that his birth must mean death to their old ways, to their old selves;

“were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.”

Taking up our cross, therefore, is a painful renunciation of the old self, a crucifixion of our sin, and a willingness to suffer to the point of death for following Jesus. It is to say to God, as Jesus did in the garden, “Nevertheless (regardless of cost), not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42b).

If this is the cost of following Jesus, then what is the incentive?

This first incentive is stated almost identically in all three passages- “For whoever would save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Negatively, this means that those who in this life refuse to take up their cross will face eternal spiritual death. Positively, it means that the one who takes up their cross will enjoy eternal life when Jesus returns.

However, the advantage isn’t simply in eternity. Following Jesus by taking up our cross is actually the best option even now. Jesus is honest about the cost of following him, whereas sin always promises more than it can deliver. Jesus gives us freedom to live for him, whereas sin only ever enslaves us. As Derek Rishmawy says “Jesus tells us to pick up our cross & follow him yet calls his yoke is easy and his burden light. What does that say about the alternatives?” Therefore, even when life is difficult living for Jesus, knowing him as our saviour and friend is the sweetest comfort, greater even than the heights of what sin can offer us.

Another reason why we are called to take up our cross is that by taking up our cross, and by dying to ourselves we actually find ourselves. The amazing paradox is that the more we become like Jesus, the more we become ourselves. The more we follow Jesus in his sufferings the more our character is moulded into the people God would have us be, which leads to our flourishing and joy.

So taking up our cross leads to life, both now and evermore.

However, the most compelling reason to take up our cross is that Jesus, God Incarnate was willing to take up his, and suffer for arrogant rebellious sinners like us. We owe all to him, and so we give all to follow him. There is no cost too great to follow the one who died for us, who “hath given us rest by his sorrow, and life by his death” (John Bunyan).

A song that captures many of these truths wonderfully is ‘When I survey’ by Isaac Watts, and I shall finish by simply reprinting the lyrics here. I hope that with me, you will ponder them in your heart, take up your cross, and live.

“When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”

Prayer:

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen – Collect for the third week of Lent

RG

A beautiful version of ‘When I Survey’ by Chelsea Moon

A website offering information on persecuted Christians throughout the world

Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die?

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Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die

This phrase originally found in Isaiah, and also used by Paul in the book of 1 Corinthians sounds, in some ways, remarkably similar to the hedonistic lifestyle lived in our culture under the banner of ‘YOLO’, or stated more historically as ‘Carpe Diem’. It is the elevation of personal desire, the pursuit of instant gratification. It is the quest for illusive concepts like freedom, ‘being true to yourself’, ‘fulfilment’. It is radically individualistic , inherently self-centred and deeply exhausting. And at its heart is the denial of the eternal nature of human beings, of divine accountability and judgement, and the denial that we owe all to God, by whom we possess all that we have.

And yet, whilst I instantly recoil from those denials, if I am honest with myself, I still live much of my daily life either explicitly or implicitly playing along with this lifestyle, tapping my foot to the chorus of ‘Let us eat…’.

I crave comfort, I am impatient, I feel that I deserve happiness, I indulge in sinful passions, I pretend that I don’t need God, and often privilege my own perceived needs over the genuine needs of others.

My actions often deny my claim to believe in the life everlasting.

Therefore, I need to constantly come back to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 – ‘Now I would remind you brothers, of the gospel’.

Verses 3-8 say ‘For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. The he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.’ 

There are two crucial, earth-shattering events which this passage draws me towards- The cross of Christ and the resurrection of Christ.

The cross

The cross of Christ is the very demonstration of divine accountability, in which God in Christ takes upon himself the judgement, the condemnation and death that my sin deserves. It is the judgement of God brought forward. This demonstration of Gods justice upon the cross is the guarantee of a future day of judgement, ‘where we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ’ (2 Cor 5:10), and also the guarantee that those who have trusted in Jesus will stand forgiven, as the judge is the one who was judged in our place, the one who died for us.

You may read the previous paragraph and wonder where the practical advice is for avoiding the ‘YOLO’ lifestyle. However, often the bible wants to change our thinking before it changes specific behaviour.

And so here is some ways in which these realities might cause us to think differently, which, if we let this thinking into our hearts, will lead to radically changed lives.

There is a future day when I will stand before the one who died for me and give an account of how I have lived in light of his forgiveness. This is the most sobering of thoughts. And if I can bear to let in linger in my mind long enough, it starts to change my priorities. Knowing that I will stand before the one to whom nothing is hidden shatters my pretence of Godliness, forces me to admit my faults, to ask for forgiveness. But I don’t obey out of fear that Jesus might reject me- rather I obey because I love the one to whom I will give an account, because he first loved me, because he has already secured my salvation by his death. I long to please him because he was willing to endure death on the cross for me. So the cross reminds me of both Divine accountability and Divine love.

But it also reminds me of Divine belonging. I am not my own. I have been bought with the precious blood of Christ. I am not just saved from something, but for something- a life lived in the service of the one who died for me, to whom I owe all, and to whom I belong.
This turns upside down my view of myself and my life. The first question I should ask myself when I get out of bed is not ‘what do I want/need to do today?’ but ‘How can I live for Jesus today?’ I should strive not for my personal happiness, but to please Jesus (which wonderfully does lead to great joy). I should not look for freedom to live as I like, but freedom from that which inhibits my relationship with Jesus. I don’t have to desperately try to be ‘true to myself’, but rather to be like Jesus. And the great thing is that when I am living to become like Jesus I actually become more and more that which I am intended to be, I become more and more myself. These thoughts are only the beginnings of how this reality should change my life.

Having seen how the cross challenges the ‘Let us eat’ mentality, lets move to the resurrection.

The resurrection

The physical, historical resurrection of Jesus from the dead shows us Gods vindication of Jesus and his work. We can be confident of our own vindication, because we are ‘in Christ’, and so will share in his resurrection. Jesus is described in this chapter as the ‘firstfruits’- the guarantee of the rest of the harvest. The resurrection is a demonstration of Gods awesome power. It shows that death has been defeated, and that those who trust in Jesus will live forever in resurrected and redeemed bodies. Jesus has not simply been raised from the dead, but also above all things as ruler and king.

And again, dwelling on these realities challenges the tempting ‘Let us eat’ mentality.

I will one day be raised to live eternally in a redeemed body in a redeemed creation. This means that I don’t need to try and live my ‘best life now’. I don’t need to desperately try to rack up as many experiences as possible. I don’t have to incessantly worry if I am really ‘doing life’ or not. And even more than this, it means that I can (as Paul says later in the chapter) “die every day” – I can die to myself, to my sinful desires, knowing that I will experience abundant life eternally. Therefore knowing that I have eternal life means I can die now.

The resurrection also means that what I do with my body matters. My body is not simply a shell for my spirit, but rather an eternal part of who I am. Our current bodies are indeed compared to a seed of what they shall be when they are redeemed, but we will live for eternity in a redeemed version of our current bodies. Therefore, while acknowledging that in many ways it is still broken, I should be seeking to care for my body, to look after it, and most importantly to live in holiness in it.

The resurrection, then, further challenges the ‘Let us eat’ mentality.

***

So what do we need in a world that cries ‘Let us eat’?

We need to be reminded of the gospel.

 

RG

 

Waiting

“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord…..you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” – James 5:7

“We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” – Romans 8:23-25

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“I hated waiting. If I had one particular complaint, it was that my life seemed composed entirely of expectation” – Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson

The Christian is one who is incessantly waiting. This means that the question of how we wait is the question of how we live, and that learning to wait well is learning to live well. While the way in which we wait is the focus of this post, we must first ask another question- what are we waiting for?

We are waiting for “the coming of the Lord”, as James puts it, which Paul says will mean our “adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies”. We wait for the Lord Jesus to return in order to transform us to be like him, that we may live with him in the New Creation, finally receiving in full all the blessings of being the adopted sons of God. Gerard Manley Hopkins describes the redemption of our bodies beautifully;

“In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.”

Paul, in his 1st letter to the Corinthians compares what our bodies are like now with what they will be like then, saying “What is sown in perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.” (1 Cor 15:42-43) and goes on to conclude “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust (Adam), we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven (Jesus).” We shall be like Jesus.

We wont just be like him, however, but will also see him. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” (1 Cor 13:12) The Godhead, three in one, will dwell forever in perfect love and intimacy with his redeemed people in their redeemed bodies in a redeemed world. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man, He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:3-4) C.S Lewis, in his sermon ‘The weight of glory’ describes this moment in a way which captures well the end of our waiting- “The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.”

This then, is what we wait for- The glorious return of Jesus to consummate all of Gods promises.

But how are we to wait?

The first way that scripture calls us to wait is patiently. “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord” commands James. Paul says similarly ,”But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

The late theologian John Webster said that “Patience is the virtue of waiting. It involves waiting for all things to reach their end-waiting for others, as well as for ourselves, to take the time they need, and above all waiting for God to fulfill his purposes in his own good time.”

From Webster’s words we see that there are certain things we must know and acknowledge if we are to wait patiently. The first is realising what some theologians have called the ‘Creator-Creature distinction’; the fact that God is God and we are his creatures. Accepting that we aren’t in final control of our lives, and that God is, releases us from the burden of battling against the limitations of time, ability and situation that we face, of craving comfort and control. Instead, we begin to see our limitations as the shape of the life that God has given us, and we are even able to rejoice in our finitude, because we know the one who is infinite.

The second thing which will help us to wait patiently is knowing the purpose of the Lord; that he is directing our lives towards our ultimate redemption. In James, it says “you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful”. Knowing that the God in control of our lives is not a despot, but a loving heavenly father, compassionate and merciful, who is making us increasingly like his Son until the day we see him face to face means we can trust him when our experience screams that pain is purposeless, and when we feel that he has forgotten us.

The third thing we must realise in order to wait patiently is the goodness of the patience of God. In 2 Peter, in a chapter on the return of Jesus, he says “The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) Jesus has not returned yet because in his mercy God wishes to bring more people to repent and believe. It is not through lack of care that the Lord has not returned, but because of his deep care for the world.

To be one who waits patiently, therefore, is to know God – his otherness, his purpose, his goodness, and to rest in it. To wait patiently is to abide in God. To do this we must ponder these truths regularly ourselves, speak the word of the gospel to one another, and form patterns of living that reflect who this God is.

However, we are also called to wait eagerly. The passage from Romans says that “we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies”. Hebrews 9 says that Jesus will come again to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

To wait eagerly is to wait expectantly, confidently, assured that God will do as he has said. In his grace he has been kind enough to show us throughout scripture that he is a God who keeps his promises. We are not like poor Estragon and Vladimir in Samuel Beckett’s famous play, who are waiting for Godot, but wait in vain for one who does not (and seemingly will not) arrive, one who promises but disappoints. We are waiting for the God who promised to rescue Israel from Egypt, and did; who promised them a land, and delivered it into their hands; who promised a Messiah, a Saviour, and gave his Son.

We wait for the promise keeping God, so we wait eagerly.

Scripture further calls us to live holy lives while we wait. In the first letter of Peter, after calling people to place their hope fully on Jesus’ return, he then says “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written “You shall be holy, for I am holy”. In other words we are called to wait looking forward (to the last day), rather than behind (to our past sins), and to wait looking to God rather than at those around us.

As we focus on our future hope, and the God who is at the centre of it, we will increasingly be shaped and transformed into a holy waiting people.

We are warned, however, that waiting will be painful. We are told in Romans 8 that we will groan inwardly as we await our final salvation. 2 Corinthians 5:4-5 says “For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” 

The tension of having the Holy Spirit within us, the guarantee of our future, but of not fully experiencing it yet causes us to groan – to long for the day when the redemption of our bodies, and of our world, becomes reality.  There are echos of the experience of Mrs Ramsay in Virginia Woolf’s novel ‘To the Lighthouse’ in the lives of all Christians who know what they hope for;

“To want and not to have, sent all up her body a hardness, a hollowness, a strain. And then to want and not to have- to want and want- how that wrung the heart, and wrung it again and again!”

Each of us will know this groaning in our lives in different ways. Suffering with a long term illness, I long for the day when pain shall cease, when my body wont fight against me, when I wont just feel fine some of the time but good all of the time. Struggling with sexual sin I long for the day when I wont even be tempted, the day when my desires will be honourable at all times, my thoughts always pure. And most of all, living in a world where Jesus is mocked instead of glorified, I long for the day when every knee shall bow, when we shall see him as he is and praise him forever.

But is there not a clash here, a contradiction between groaning and patience?

I think that while there is a kind of groaning which is forgetful of God, there is also a groaning that is deeply mindful of him and his character. We often groan not through impatience, but through pain- the pain that is the reality for those who know the Lord, and also know how sinful we still are, how broken our bodies still are. We groan because, although we trust that God will deliver us, and do so according to his perfect timing, we still rightly long for what we do not yet have. It seems, therefore, that groaning and patience can and do co-exist in the life of the Christian.

***

And so we wait, patiently, eagerly, longing for the day when waiting shall cease, when every longing shall be satisfied, the day we are like him, and see him face to face.

Prayer:

Father, help us to be those who know what we wait for, and look forward to it with joy. Help us to wait for it with patience, knowing that we are your creatures, that you love us, and that your patience is kindness. Help us to wait eagerly, knowing that your purpose shall not be deflected. Help us to live increasingly holy lives while we wait. And father, in our groaning comfort us, shower us with your grace, and keep us waiting with hope. Amen.

RG

An article by Andrew Wilson about thinking of the future

An article by Wesley Hill about waiting for our redemption

An article from the late John Webster on patience as a fruit of the Spirit

Children of God

We live in a world where people are quick to speak and slow to listen. A world where words are used carelessly, where things are often spoken without thought. A world where many words have lost their meaning almost entirely. And so I want to spend some time looking at just a few words, in the hope that we can recover some of the wonder of their meaning, and use them not flippantly but joyfully.

The phrase that I am going to be focussing on is found in John chapter 1- here is the passage, beginning at vs 9.

‘The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become Children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.’

Children of God. This phrase is often used by Christians to describe all people, but the bible only uses this phrase in relation to believers. For example in this passage it is those ‘who received him, who believed in his name’ that are given to the right to become Children of God. So child of God doesn’t simply mean someone created by God- it is a term reserved for those trusting in Jesus because it means abundantly more.

Let’s therefore look at a few other passages in order to see what it means to be a Child of God.

Loved as the Son

Later in the book of John, in chapter 17 during what is known as Jesus’ high priestly prayer, he prays to the Father for all those who will believe (including us) that we would be united in love so that (in the second half of 23) ‘the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me’. Being a child of God means that we are as loved as the Son. We are as loved as the perfect Son, the one who says in v24 that he has enjoyed perfect communion and love with the father from before the foundation of the world. We are as loved as the obedient one, who always did his Fathers will, to whom the father said ‘You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’. Do you ever feel like God doesn’t love you? Maybe it’s because of all the things you have done, or maybe your life is so hard sometimes that you wonder if a God who loves you could let it be this way. Well regardless of how you feel, of what you have done, or of what is happening in your life, if you are trusting in Jesus then you are a Child of God as loved as the Son.

We can call him father

In Luke Chapter 11 we get another insight into what it means to be a Child of God. When one of the disciples asks Jesus how they should pray he responds saying “When you pray, say ‘Father, hallowed be your name’.

We don’t deserve to use this title. It is an intimate term, describing a close relationship, when we deserve only separation from God. Before God adopted us we were children of the devil, children of darkness. It is only because of the amazing mercy of God in sending Jesus to die for our sins and adopting us as his children that we, though sinners, can approach the infinitely holy God of the universe and call him Father. Ephesians 2:13 says ‘But now, in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ’. We can confidently come before his throne in prayer as our loving heavenly Father who longs to hear from his children. What a privilege. Being a child of God means we can call him Father.

Slavery to Sonship

The next passage we are going to look at is Galatians 3:24-4:7. This shows us at least two more truths about what it means to be a child of God.

Firstly, we have been rescued from slavery, to sonship. In 4:3 it says that we were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world, which is an obscure phrase, but from other parts of the new testament it can’t mean less than slaves to sin, to the lies and ways of the world and the devil. We have been brought out of slavery, our chains have been removed, and we now live as children of a wonderful father.

Part of the family of God

And secondly, we are part of the one huge family of believers spanning all generations. Vs29 says that if we belong to Christ, we are Abrahams offspring. We are children of the promise all the way back in Genesis 15:5 when God says that Abrahams offspring will be as numerous as the stars. We are offspring in this ancient family of Gods people. This means that we have brothers and sisters all over the world, and across all generations. So we have been rescued from slavery, to sonship, into a worldwide, all generation spanning family of Gods people.

Heir of an inheritance beyond compare

Finally, we are going to look at Romans 8:14-18, which adds another glorious truth about what being a child of God means. ‘For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs- heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us’.  These verses recap on some of what we have covered so far, reminding us that we have been adopted as sons (the Greek word here refers to both sons and daughters), and that we can therefore call God Father, but they also add something else. Gods Children are ‘heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ’.

Now I could do another post on just this phrase but I am just going to say a few things about our inheritance as heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.

  • First, this inheritance is so good that Paul in vs 18 says that our sufferings in this world (as horrible as they may be) aren’t even worth comparing with it.
  • Secondly, no words will fully do it justice. As JC Ryle says “Who can tell the full nature of the inheritance of the saints in light? Who can describe the glory which is yet to be revealed and given to the children of God? Words fail us. Language falls short. Mind cannot conceive fully, and tongue cannot express perfectly–the things which are comprised in the glory yet to come upon the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty!”
  • However, in negative terms our inheritance will mean No more sin, No devil, No curse, No temptation, No pain, No sorrow, No death.
  • And positively it will mean we will be in redeemed transformed bodies, we will see God and live in perfect intimacy with him, we will have rest, we will be satisfied, we will live eternally, we will share in Christs glory and we will know perfect and endless love with the one who has redeemed us.
  • Paul puts it like this in Ephesians 1 vs 3 – ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.’ Nothing will be held back from us, we will receive every spiritual blessing.

Being a child of God means being an heir of God and a fellow heir with Christ.

What love

In summary then, being a child of God is the ultimate privilege of the Christian- it means we are as loved as the son, that we can call the All-powerful, infinitely holy God our father. It means we have been rescued from slavery, to sonship, and belong to the great family of Gods people. More than that, it means we are Heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ of an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, one that is beyond what words can convey. And so we say with joy the words of John the apostle in 1st John chapter 3 and vs 1- “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

RG

PS

Sleeping in Peace

 

If you are anything like me, you often lie in bed at night worrying- about the past, the future, other people and even sometimes you might worry that you worry too much.

Psalm 4:8 says ‘In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.’

Thinking upon this simple verse each night over a number of weeks has helped me to begin to see the ridiculousness of worry and the richness of Gods love, and it is my hope that in sharing some thoughts others too might be increasingly released from worry into the loving arms of our Heavenly Father.

Lying down in peace 

The verse suggests we can lie down in peace, but what kind of peace?

Peace with God- We, the unclean, unrighteous, sinful people we are can have peace with a God of blazing purity, of radiant holiness. How? The cross of Jesus. In Colossians 1:19-20, Paul, speaking about Jesus says ‘For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.’ Through the death of Jesus on the cross we are reconciled to God, peace has been made between God and man. Roman 5:1 says ‘Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Those who trust in Christ (those justified by faith) have the peace with God that Jesus enabled by his death.
However this peace doesn’t just mean that we aren’t at war with God, or that he is indifferent to us instead of being opposed to us. The peace that God gives is the intimate peace of sonship. He has given us ‘the right to become Children of God’ (John 1:12). Jesus, the eternally loved son of the Father has, by his death on the cross, enabled us to enjoy the fellowship and peace with the Father that he has always had. So we can lie in bed at night knowing that if we trust in Jesus we have peace with God- both reconciliation and sonship.

Peace of mind- This is a result of the previous section. Because we have peace with God we can have peace of mind. Knowing that we are forgiven and adopted as sons gives us a quiet settled joy and a sure foundation- a stream of peace which will never run dry. Gods sovereignty further enables us to have peace of mind. Romans 8:28 says ‘And we know that for those who love God, God works all things together for good‘. Our ultimate good is be like Jesus (vs 29), so therefore the Father is working all things in our life to make us more like Jesus. Knowing God is in control challenges us to stop relying on ourselves and to put a simple trust in him, handing our worries over to the God of infinite wisdom and loving care. It means we can sing with Alison Krauss (in the beautiful song ‘I know who holds tomorrow’) “Many things about tomorrow, I don’t seem to understand. But I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand.”

Dwelling in safety

the verse suggests we can dwell in safety, but what kind of safety?

The second half of John 16:33 says ‘In the world you will have tribulation (trouble). But take heart; I have overcome the world.’ This shows us at least two things about the safety we have. Firstly, we will not be free from trials, tribulations, risk and danger- this isn’t safety as we commonly imagine it. However we are attached to Jesus, the one who by his death and resurrection has overcome the world, and so we have the constant safety of a relationship with a God who is victorious over the world and will one day reign in victory. We also have the safe assurance of his unchanging love for us. Romans 8:38-39 says ‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ So we can dwell in the safety of the assurance of Gods victory and his unchanging love for us in Jesus. 

A picture of things to come

Despite how good the peace and safety we have now is, it is a shadow of the peace and safety of the new heavens and earth. In the new creation we will have the perfect rest that the Sabbath is a picture of. Their will be absolute peace. We will be completely safe. Revelation 21:12 says ‘It had a great, high wall’ showing its safety, and Revelation 21:27 says of this new creation ‘But nothing unclean will ever enter it.’ No sin or death or rebellion will be able to destroy the perfect peace and safety of this eternal kingdom. Revelation 21:1-4 sums up the experience we will have in the new creation. It says ‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God,prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

You alone, O Lord

Many things in this world claim to offer us peace and safety. It is my prayer that we put our trust in the only one who can truly provide it.

R.G.

Here are a few links with songs about some of what I have talked about.

‘Sleep in peace’ by Jon Anderson (With words from the verse the post this is based on, this is a great way to think about it all) 

‘I know who holds tomorrow’ by Alison Krauss (beautiful voice and even more beautiful lyrics)

‘No more sorrow’ by Will Todd (with lyrics taken from Revelation 21:-4 and the gentle sweetness of the harmony this cant help but make you smile) 

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